This has nothing to do with my own photography – but I need to share!
So I went to the A.R.T’s production of Sleep No More last night.
You really have to go see it. Even if you’re not a theater person. Even if you’re a hardcore traditional theater person.
It’s experiential theater like I’ve never seen before.
Think of the story of “That Scottish Play” that we’re not allowed to say because I’m writing this while inside a theater – and let’s not tempt bad luck, eh?
So anyway, Sleep No More.
You go in, you’re given a mask. You get into an elevator with other people wearing masks. You’re let off in small groups on different floors. And you just GO.
The A.R.T. is working in collaboration with Punchdrunk Theatre. Apparently, Punchdrunk has done this sort of thing all over London. They’ve taken the Old Lincoln School in Brookline and transformed it into what amounts to pretty much a haunted house. Every floor and every open room has something different in it. Every scene from “That Scottish Play” is laid out all at once and you’re allowed to walk anywhere and talk (quietly) and touch anything and follow whomever you like.
I have to say that when they shoved us out of the elevator with the masks on, I was a little anxious (no idea why), but it quickly went away once I figured out that we were allowed to do whatever we want. It’s like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, you know, the ones we loved when we were kids and tried to ‘beat’ by sneaking peeks at the options?
Now, it’s been quite awhile since I’ve seen a traditional show of “That Scottish Play,” but even so, Sleep No More was a fantastic journey. Even if all you know is “out, out, damn spot” or “double double toil and trouble”, you’ll get it. Or maybe you won’t. But your experience will be different than the person next to you – and it doesn’t matter if you “get it”. As it is with all theater and the arts at large, but this, this… there are no words.
Apparently, most of the action is on a loop – the actors go through the major scenes at least twice (that I saw) before the final banquet scene. Also, apparently, talking with the Director of Development for A.R.T. (we exchanged cards – networking FTW!), it takes about 11 times seeing the show to really see everything.
I was sucked into the story, trying to figure out where I should go next, when another actor would calmly walk by and a herd of audience members would quietly and almost seamlessly change direction and follow her. Most of the action took place in the rooms, and in the hallways, most actors, unless involved in a scene, would walk slowly and deliberately to their next scene, usually quite enigmatically. There was some action in the stairwells – a few interpretive dances and a couple fight scenes, complete with the dying and prat falling down the stairs.
The educator in me is still amazed. When I could tear my eyes away from the set and the action, I would watch how the rest of the audience was interacting with the set, with the actors, with each other. I have never seen anything like this. The educational and philosophical ramifications are deafening. What does it mean to really bring the audience into the show? What does it really mean to have people wandering around the actors? What is it like for the actors to have to work around a randomly shifting group of people watching? What does it mean to the actor and to the story when someone walks away from an actor to explore something else? How can we mold first-time-theater-attendee’s minds to take that, this experience, and have them be able to recreate it while sitting in a traditional theater? How do we do something like this with each arts discipline? How do we make this an entry point for returning?
Likewise, the theater photographer in me was just drooling over the set, the lighting, the mysterious ways certain actors would look over their shoulders. During the final banquet scene, I just stood in the back of the crowd, my fingers itching for my camera. I was thinking, “A wide angle lens! A wide angle lens! My kingdom for a wide angle lens!” Not only was the scene on stage (and yes, there was an actual stage for the final scene) fascinating, but the way people were watching was just as captivating. When everyone is wearing one of those masks, looking all in the same direction, with the same “Do I dare move?” posture… Riveted. I was just. plain. riveted.
Theater makes me so happy.